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Public forums explain school levy

April 10, 2014
By J.T. Whitehouse , The Town Crier

Austintown Local School District will have a 4.1 mill bond levy on the May ballot that will cover the cost of a new Fitch.

Two community forums were held to present the information and inform residents of how the levy came to be. According to superintendent Vince Colaluca, the idea began in 2012.

''The State [of Ohio] did an evaluation on the Fitch High School building,'' Colaluca said. ''We didn't hire them or ask them to come in.''

He said the state evaluators came on Jan. 20. 2012 and walked the building. They looked at cost factors to upgrade the present building with items such as a new HVAC unit that would cost over $7 million, along with the electrical service and heating and cooling. Add in a $2 million roof renovation, and all those items exceed the state's cost limit for repairing older buildings.

''When the cost exceeds two-thirds the cost of a new building, the state wants to see a district build new.

Also included in the analysis, Colaluca said the state looks at 900 square feet for a classroom. The school currently has 600 classrooms. A lot of that has to do with the new technology and ways of teaching in the 21st century learning environment.

The analysis the state came up with was presented to the board in 2013. It included the construction of a 285,000 square foot building that was based on the projected number of students attending. The state offered Austintown School District 47 percent of the $68 million needed for the new building. That came to $31 million, leaving the community to come up with the balance.

While it all seemed cut and dried, there were some issues the board did not favor. The state's offer of a new building would include a cafetorium, which is a multi-purpose room that is used as a cafeteria, theater and meeting room. The state won't help fund a separate auditorium as it is not considered necessary for educating a student.

''We want to keep our present auditorium and gymnasium,'' Colaluca said. ''We don't want to lose our performing arts and the gyms.''

That led to the board coming up with a plan to add $9 million to the total construction costs to remodel and save those parts of the old Fitch. That plan was presented at the forums.

''The most popular question at the public forums was, do we have a plan,'' Colaluca said.

He said the plan actually came into play when the two elementary schools were built. Fitch could have been done at the same time, but it would have been a huge project. The Austintown Board of Education instead decided to do the elementary buildings as Phase I, then Fitch as Phase II.

Another question involved why a levy so soon after the elementary buildings were finished. Colaluca said it is all about getting the state money, which he said is Austintown resident's state tax money that could come back to the township.

He said the problem is that the state only offers the $31 million until August. After that, the offer is off the table and Colaluca said there is no guarantee it will ever come back.

''It is tax money our residents paid,'' he said. ''It either comes back to us or goes somewhere else.''

He said the funds from the state can now go to colleges and facilities such as museums. Once the $31 million offer is pulled off the table, it would immediately go to some other district or entity like a college.

''I don't know if it will be there in the future,'' Colaluca said. ''The funding was approved in July of 2013 and we have until August of 2014 to pass a levy or lose the money.''

He said, had the AMS building been approved for funding the first time, it would have been a lot cheaper.



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